Backstage drama at the fringe

Backstage drama at the fringe
The Vancouver International Fringe Festival's
newest fundraising venture has raised the ire of festival performers, who say it puts them at an unfair disadvantage in attracting audiences and runs counter to the spirit of the nonjuried event.

At issue is the Encore Series, which will take place at the Granville Island Stage and the Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver, running concurrently with the main Fringe performances. The series is made up of five audience favourites from past editions of the Fringe, including such hits as Charles Ross's One Man Star Wars Trilogy and TJ Dawe's Maxim & Cosmo .

"There's no way these shows, these really popular shows, are not going to draw the lion's share of the attention, the press, the ticket sales," James Judd, the San Francisco based writer and performer of this year's Fringe show Fat Camp , told the Straight . "It's going to be in a larger venue, it'll be at prime times, it'll be at a higher ticket price, and it won't even be near the other venues."

Judd, who also works as a lawyer, said he is particularly concerned that money raised from performers' $700 application fees is being used to finance the Encore Series, and he is contemplating taking legal action against the festival for lost revenue.

There has been talk among performers, Judd said, of picketing the Encore Series venues or handing out fliers asking patrons not to attend the series.

David Jordan, executive director of the Vancouver International Fringe Festival, told the Straight the series is meant to boost the festival's audience, not lure it away from smaller venues.

"We're trying to tap into audiences that might not already be coming to the Fringe Festival by showcasing some of the stuff that's been most popular in the past," he said.

Jordan also insisted the Encore Series is not being paid for with Fringe performers' entry fees.

"The performer-application revenue is less than five percent of our overall festival budget, and their application fees don't even come close to paying for the overall cost of the festival," he said, adding that the Encore Series is an important part of the festival's strategy to reduce its $100,000 deficit.

Oda's Controversial legacy
Members of Vancouver's arts community have given outgoing Canadian Heritage Minister Bev Oda a less than stellar grade for her work in arts and culture. Oda was ousted in a parliamentary cabinet shuffle Tuesday (August 14) that saw Quebec-based MP Josée Verner appointed as her successor. Oda will take up Verner's previous position as minister of international cooperation.

During her 19-month tenure as heritage minister, Oda's name was regularly linked to controversy. There was a November 2006 fundraising dinner, organized on her behalf by broadcasters lobbying her ministry, that was to take place two weeks before a major federal review of Canada's broadcasting rules. It was hastily cancelled when the media started asking questions.

At an Ottawa conference in March 2007, after Oda had failed to deliver on her overdue promise of a national museum policy and months after the September 2006 slashing of the Museum Assistance Program's annual budget by $4.6 million the Canadian Museums Association presented her with a boomerang (symbolizing her promise returning to haunt her), which she refused to accept before storming out without comment. And then there was the festivals funding flap, when she invited only Conservative MPs to suggest activities in their ridings that would be eligible for a new $30 million in festival funding over two years. That fund came under further fire when Oda announced application guidelines would not be available until the fall. In an exclusive interview with the Straight (Arts Notes, May 31-June 7), she confirmed this would, in effect, cut summer festivals out of the running for grants this year.

"I'm just excited about the opportunity to work with a new minister," Ana Torres said when contacted by the Straight . Torres is executive director of the British Columbia Association of Magazine Publishers, an organization that relies on funds from the Department of Canadian Heritage. "You recall that issue that happened a few months ago around Conservatives and festival funding?" she added. "I just hope that this kind of stuff won't happen anymore."

All the same, as some point out, Oda managed to secure important funding for the arts in Canada. She recently unveiled a number of grants to various institutions, including $2.1 million to UBC's Museum of Anthropology, awarded in June.

During her watch, the Canada Council's annual budget was increased by $30 million to $181 million. While that falls short of the $300 million promised by the Liberals before the last federal election, the boost was welcomed by the arts community.

"I think that that's certainly an accomplishment that she can carry with her. She's got bragging rights to that one," Heather Redfern, executive director of the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, told the Straight .

Andrew Wilhelm-Boyles, executive director of the Alliance for Arts and Culture, was less charitable. "I give her a failing grade," he told the Straight . "I don't even know how deep the failure would be."